Various Artists - Driftless Ambient II

by Hayden Harman Rating:6 Release Date:2015-12-10

“Try something different than what you are routinely good at.”

- from Hayden’s Elliptical Tactics, card no. 44. Also a quote misattributed to Confucius, featured in approx. 387,000 fortune cookies sold this year.

How much simpler would our lives be if musicians only stuck to one style of music? There would be no more side projects to keep up with, no more difficult creative detours to write about and artists would fit into our nice, cookie-cutter vision of who we’d like them to be and what music we’d like them to create. But alas, artists are uncompromising little beings, and their nature dictates that they must experiment and follow their own muse. Most of time, we don’t get to hear all the exploring and experimenting that fall outside an artist’s normal oeuvre, but compilations like Driftless Ambient II fill in those gaps and shatter our preexisting conceptions of who we thought they really were and our perception of self and truth and the fundamental categories of being until before you know it we don’t even know if we’re real or exist at all AHHHH!!!!

Ok, *deep breath*... some background: Driftless Recordings is run by Airbird’s Joel Ford and North American’s Patrick McDermott. The label’s mission statement states that these recordings are “an avenue for both label and non label artists to release music that may be an aberration from their traditional material.” For this release, they’ve drafted some recognized names like Wild Nothing’s Jack Tatum, Real Estate/Ducktails leader Matt Mondanile and the Canadian producer CFCF to contribute some tunes as well as a few lesser-known musicians.

Compilations are tricky things to begin with. Lumping together tenuously connected artists can be difficult, and this compilation’s mission statement makes it especially so. How do you define a style that has no direction and very limited boundaries?

There is no consistent theme or aesthetic across the album, with all of the tracks tackling various forms of ambient music. Some of the tracks stand out great by themselves, like CFCF’s “Dissecting,” which features some melodious vocoder lines surrounded by bouncing preset synths. Other tracks just sort of fade away unmemorably like Mondanile’s “The Canonical Office” and North American’s “Diana.” Some songs are impossible to ignore, such as Lost Trail’s “Gloaming Drew Down and was Gone” or the final track, Forever’s “Lay Your Head at the Altar of the Beast,” which both share an affinity for distorted noise elements that force you to pay attention.

Driftless Ambient II may be a very uneven listening experience, but it works as a chance for people to hear their favorite musicians trying something different than what they are most known for. Sometimes the music comes across as an afterthought, almost like Ringo Starr’s artwork (bless his heart), but it is all listenable. It isn’t groundbreaking experimental, musique concrète, noise, drone, or what you’re going to hear off of labels like Kye, Hanson or Erstwhile; you've heard this all before. So would I pay for this album? Probably not. But you might, depending on how much tolerance you have for going nowhere in no hurry.

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